Larry Trask, who made a prior Languagehat appearance in this entry, has a useful Basque page, prefaced with the following pointed caveat:

But please note: I do not want to hear about the following:
Your latest proof that Basque is related to Iberian / Etruscan / Pictish / Sumerian / Minoan / Tibetan / Isthmus Zapotec / Martian
Your discovery that Basque is the secret key to understanding the Ogam inscriptions / the Phaistos disc / the Easter Island carvings / the Egyptian Book of the Dead / the Qabbala / the prophecies of Nostradamus / your PC manual / the movements of the New York Stock Exchange
Your belief that Basque is the ancestral language of all humankind / a remnant of the speech of lost Atlantis / the language of the vanished civilization of Antarctica / evidence of visitors from Proxima Centauri

(Thanks to Vidiot for the link.)
Addendum. Thanks to Pat of for this excellent interview with Trask; I was sad to read at the end: “Illness has robbed him of his voice, so that this interview had to be conducted entirely by email.”


  1. After looking at Trask I just googled around on “bizarre”, which a Spanish dictionary told me long ago was a Basque word originally. And found your site.
    It’s still very interesting that bizarro in Spanish or Portuguese means “brave, noble, elegant” etc., very far from the English meaning. The Spanish Armada must be at fault.

  2. Trask is one of my favorite authors, as far as linguistics goes. I never hesitate to recommend A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics, which is full of even-handed discussions of more linguistic terms than Panini could peruse.
    His A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology is equally useful, if a bit more erudite. But then, isn’t everybody interested in knowing what diplophonia, anthropophonics, and pneumotachographs are?

  3. Well, I certainly am! Thanks for the recommendations.

  4. Trask’s exasperated posts against pseudo-linguistic numbskullery on the sadly defunct Indo-European list are missed. Oh, well.

  5. Oh, and I just ran across this nice interview with Trask in the Guardian. It turns out that he himself is an interesting character: he was born in Appalachia, but has lived in England since the seventies. And it’s *really* fun to hear him tear into Chomsky.
    But then, doesn’t everybody want to tear into Chomsky?

  6. He left out the Voynich ms.

  7. good point 🙂

  8. Hmmph, I sent you this link–pointing out that very quote–some months ago. *sulks*

  9. Damn — sorry, Karl! I must have been in a fugue state. See, that’s why I needed a vacation.

  10. Chomsky! Mmmmmm-mmmm. Nothing like a nice piece of Chomsky between two slices of rye.
    I don’t know what “pneumotachographs” is, but it’s immediately become one of my favorite-sounding words.
    Oh, and Hi Pat!

  11. Moira!
    What’s up you!
    Mr Hat, you may be interested to know that I have known Moira since blogging was but wee.
    Sorry for playing tag in your comments. 8^)

  12. No, no, I think of my comments as a cafe where people can chat about whatever they like, and I’m delighted to discover that two of my favorite bloggers are old acquaintances!

  13. I’m sad to report that Professor Trask died on Saturday, after a long illness. A real tragedy. Certainly he was one of my own favourite linguists, although I admit I’ve yet to read any of his more substantial works.

  14. Damn. I’m very sorry to hear that; he was one of mine as well.

  15. Trask made a career on the premise that the origins of the basques and their language can Never be known. Not to mention his assertion that the basque language is so unique that it has nothing in common with other lanugages.He even claims in his FAQ that nobody knows where the basques came from; turns out that paleoanthropologists have traced the basques to the middle east.The closest to the basques[both linguistically AND genetically] are the Hunza of Pakistan.I also wonder what the likelyhood that the basque word for water : Ur is a loneword from sumerian.

  16. Luis Martins says:

    Rest in Peace.

  17. The possibility of Larry Trask hearing about that Basque is related to such as Pictish no longer exists now, and thank God.

  18. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I don’t want Larry Trask to be rolling over in his grave, but I came across this abstract by Juliette Blevins of CUNY claiming that (Proto-)Basque and Proto-Indo-European are related. I can’t find anything published on it, only talk abstracts and notes by a participant. Does anybody know anything about it?

  19. Trond Engen says:

    It’s from the Oslo conference in 2013. It’s not in the Selected Papers.

    It’s very intriguing, but I’d have thought she’d have been busy expanding on it if there was any progress to make. OTOH, she has research interests and projects all over the map.

  20. Stephen C. Carlson: I doubt Trask is rolling in his grave. In his writings on Basque he bemoaned the fact that scholarship attempting to related Basque to other languages was as a rule done by people who knew little and cared less about the diachronic phonology of Basque. Whether Juliette Blevins is right or wrong, her theory (if her abstract and the notes are anything to go by) is based on a close engagement with scholarship on the history of Basque.

  21. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Thanks for your comments. It didn’t seem to have the usual red flags of crankdom for me, except of course the ultimate claim of relating Basque to anything else. It looks like she’s still working on it. There was a talk at Harvard last year.

    I also found online the recent thesis of her Ph.D.student on Basque historical phonology on academia. Presumably some of that research is feeding into her work.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    The abstract and the notes do sound intriguing, but internal reconstruction always has the problem that it has infinite degrees of freedom at one end. I also expect a lot of very old borrowings in both directions. I’ll read the thesis.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    I’m only 38 pages in, and the thesis already contains surprises. Most kinds of Basque assign stress to the second-to-last or the second syllable of a word or stem by default, some prefer the end of a phrase almost like French, but there’s one group of dialects that has a system which works like that of Standard/Tokyo Japanese.

  24. Fascinating! Where is that group located?

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Only given as “Northern Bizkaia”; but a few place names are mentioned, of which I recognize Guernica.

    Also, I mixed things up: this is the same system that has phrase-final stress, namely on unaccented words. “In this system, the accent is assigned morphologically. There is a lexical distinction between accented and unaccented words. Unaccented words are formed by the combination of unaccented morphemes. Most native stems and singular affixes are unaccented. When combined with unaccented morphemes, the accent surfaces phrase-finally when these words precede the verb or when they are produced in isolation (3.7a). When unaccented words do not precede the verb, they do not have accent (3.7b) […]. Accented words have at least one accented morpheme, which can be either the stem or an affix. Compounds and plural inflectional suffixes are accented, as well as most derived words and loanwords.” (p. 32) – According to the given examples, those suffixes are preaccenting: the accent surfaces not on them, but on the syllable that precedes them.

    As in, specifically, Tokyo, the first syllable of a “phrase” has low pitch, and all following ones have high pitch till the accent comes or the “phrase” is over. Syllables after the accent have low pitch again.

    Having explained the three regional accent systems and all attempts to explain how they developed, Egurtzegi suddenly mentions (p. 54 onwards) that there’s a fourth system, found “in the south-western High Navarrese variety of Goizueta”. This, unlike Japanese, is classical pitch accent: every word has a stressed syllable which has either high or low pitch relative to its surroundings. There are minimal pairs like gizónari “to the man” vs. gizònari “to the men”. Low pitch is basically found in the same words that are accented in the North Bizkaian system, so the plot thickens.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    Finished. One of the cited sources is this delightful book from 1729:


    The text begins after a long list of dedications and permissions to print:

    HASTA aora han tenido por impoſsible reducir à methodo, y reglas el Baſcuenze, no ſolo los ignorantes, ſino tam bien los doctos, no ſolo los estraños, ſino tambien los proprios: y aun el dia de oy ay mil incredulos, que juzgan, que Arte, y del Baſcuenze son terminos implicatorios, mas de los del hircocervo.

  27. Delightful indeed!

  28. David Marjanović says:

    15-minute video explaining the basics of how Japanese accentuation works.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    The text begins after a long list of dedications and permissions to print:

    And, I should have mentioned, a thorough and hilarious explanation of just how fucking awesome the Noble and Loyal Province of Guipúzcoa is. (Basque continues to be spoken there today.) You have three guesses about where the author came from, and the first two don’t count.

  30. Do I get it right that Manuel de Larramendi compares Basque to an elk?

  31. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t know. Boselaphus tragocamelus comes to mind…

  32. DLE says LL hircocervus = Sp alce¹ = Sv älg (denotationally), but Sp hircocervo is some sort of chimera. Seems people in 18th century Spain didn’t believe in elks and Larramendi was saying that doubters considered learned treatment of Basque to be just as impossible.

    (And why the Late Latinos would think that the elk is the cervine most like unto a billygoat I am not sure at all).

    What luck that elks do in fact exist!

  33. David Marjanović says:

    just as impossible

    Just as contradictory in terms.

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